Situated in the beautiful National Park of Samaria, West of Crete, Samaria Gorge is one of the island's most popular attractions, visited by thousands of tourists each year. Natural beauty at its finest, it's easy to see why.
Samaria's is the longest gorge in Europe and a fantastic experience. Given the walk takes approximately four to six hours to complete however it should not be underestimated.
The gorge is open from May through to October and makes for a cheap excursion. The entrance fee is currently just €5, with children up to the age of 15 admitted free. You can make your own way - ferris leave from the mainland - but it is often better to take an organised trip on a public bus or with one of the many travel agents who advertise their own.
At approximately 18km in length, the gorge is one of the longest in Europe, descending dramatically from the Omalos plateau and into the village of Agia Roumeli on the South coast.
This natural wonder was formed by a river which flows between Mount Volakias to the west and the towering bulk of the Lefka Ori to the east which, over time, has eroded into a steep, cavernous ravine between the two. In summer the harsh and violent winter torrent reduces to a small, meek trickle. This is when the multitudes descend.
This is not a Sunday afternoon stroll to be taken lightly; especially in spring when the river is roaring, or on a hot mid-summer day, when it can be a thoroughly gruelling test of fitness and stamina.
The mules and helicopter standing by to rescue the injured are not mere talk. Anyone who regularly leads tours through the gorge will tell you that to undertake the walk you need to be reasonably fit and/or used to lengthy walks; and you should have comfortable sturdy shoes that will stand up to hot, sharp rocks.
When inside the gorge, you may see the wildlife inhabitants fondly referred to as “kri-kri” by tourists. Otherwise known as agrimi, Capra Aegagrus, the Cretan wild goat or ibex, it is for they - and their protection - that the park was primarily created. You are most unlikely to see one of these large nimble animals as they are not all that easy to spot. Instead you may see ordinary mountain goats, treading perilously close to the cliff edge.
The forests in Samaria have a variety of trees for walkers to admire including pine and cypress. There are also hundreds of species of plants and local birds and reptiles. Almost four hundred varieties of birds are claimed to have been seen here, including owls, eagles, falcons and vultures. Bird-watchers hunting a coup should look out for the endangered Lammergeier (or bearded vulture).
On the ground lizards abound, as well as a fair share of snakes. The multifarious trees, wild flowers and herbs also make for rewarding finds. There are wild irises and orchids, thyme, sage, oregano and Cretan dittany, a celebrated medicinal herb referred to by Aristotle and Hippocrates ands supposedly taken by women in ancient times as a method of abortion.
Samaria National park and the Gorge is a fantastic experience and one not to be missed when visiting Crete but is not something to be taken lightly. It is the definition of a day trip. We urge visitors to arrive prepared for a trek in every sense of the word, especially in spring when the river is roaring or on a hot summer’s day.
The walk is a gruelling test of fitness and stamina. Anyone who regularly leads tours through the gorge will tell you that to undertake the walk you need to be reasonably fit and/or used to lengthy walks; and you should have comfortable sturdy shoes that will stand up to hot, sharp rocks.
The gorge is open from May to October. You can make your own way but it is often better to take an organised tour with one of the local tourist operators who advertise this.
On the day it is advisable to pack light but take a small rucksack with a hearty picnic lunch and a water bottle. Supplies can be bought at the outset but tend to be expensive. There are several springs and you follow a pure mountain stream through much of the gorge. Wear light clothes and good walking shoes and remember to bring a jacket for the cool morning at the top.
Finally, don’t forget your mobile phone or camera for breathtaking photo opportunities!